Misery gets some company
MORGANTOWN - In a lot of ways, what West Virginia and Kansas went through this season was quite similar. The difference was merely a matter of degrees and duration.
In other words, imagine the Mountaineers' five-game, six-week winless slump and then double it. Now you have Kansas.
Of course, West Virginia had a 5-0 start to fall back on and that's a huge difference. It's what enabled the Mountaineers to be in a position to salvage at least something out of the season, which they did finally last week with a 31-24 win at Iowa State to become bowl eligible.
Kansas had no such bright spot.
The Jayhawks won their first game of the season, beating South Dakota State of the FCS 31-17. And now the Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) bring a litany of unwanted streaks into Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game with West Virginia (6-5, 3-5) at Mountaineer Field.
That includes the second-longest active losing streak in the FBS (10, two behind Southern Mississippi), an 18-game road losing streak and 20 straight Big 12 games without a victory. It's been 20 games against FBS opponents since the Jayhawks last won (Northern Illinois the second game of last season).
Given all of that, it might be expected that first-year coach Charlie Weis looked at his team's end-of-season schedule and cringed with a late weekend off. The Jayhawks last played on Nov. 17, when Iowa State crushed them 51-23. Having a week off for Thanksgiving before wrapping up at West Virginia would seem to be a matter of just prolonging the agony.
Weis doesn't look at it that way.
"I'm kind of glad the way the schedule worked out that we didn't play on Thanksgiving weekend,'' Weis said Monday. "You can only get guys up psychologically in a short time span so many times without them being flat. We were set up to be kind of flat last week.''
And this week? Well, there's still the weight of all those losses and the knowledge that the season won't be extended beyond Saturday no matter what happens.
But it did afford Weis and his staff the chance to rest the team, get a huge head start on preparing for the Mountaineers and take dead aim at finishing the season on a positive note, which is really all the Jayhawks can hope for at this point.
So he did just that.
"Over half of our practice [during the off week] was as if we were playing West Virginia last week,'' said Weis, who also held an unusual 5:30 a.m. practice Monday. "So I think these guys are pretty familiar with who they're playing against and I'm sure a bunch of them were sitting around Friday watching that game on TV.''
In West Virginia, though, Kansas will be facing a team that might finally be recharged and anxious to play. Again, in winning at Iowa State last Friday, the Mountaineers didn't wipe out the memories of that five-game losing skid, but they did put themselves in position to salvage the ending to the season.
They also proved that they hadn't lost faith or confidence.
"I thought we did a good job of just sticking together,'' Holgorsen said. "Obviously you hit some adversity, you stack a couple of losses up on top of each other and you can go one direction or you can go the other.
"We've got a lot of seniors on our team that it means a lot to that didn't want to go out like that, didn't want to be remembered as the team that couldn't handle the new conference or any of that. They stuck together and worked hard. Just not to fold says a lot about our football team. I'm really proud of how they fought through a bunch of adversity and said enough's enough and figured out a way to win the game.''
Still, Holgorsen can feel for what Weis and Kansas are going through. Again, the Mountaineers endured the same, just to a lesser degree.
"The biggest issue is the amount of parity that exists in the Big 12,'' Holgorsen said. "We have nine teams that are bowl eligible and eight of the nine have been ranked at one point of the season or another.
"It's probably only a matter of time before Kansas gets to the point where they're like everybody else due to the fact that they have great coaches and they're able to recruit some top-notch players across the country. A few years from now, they'll be in the same boat as everybody else.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1